Nice knowing you, Chandler Bing. With “Mr. Sunshine,” Matthew Perry might finally have built a vehicle fast enough, funny enough and smart enough to outrun his durable “Friends” persona.
The new comedy, which Perry also co-created and co-writes with Alex Barnow and Marc Firek, further strengthens an ABC Wednesday night lineup that includes “The Middle” and “Modern Family.” If “Mr. Sunshine” makes good on the promise of its pilot episode, the network will have the strongest night of comedy on television.
Perry plays Ben Donovan, manager of a San Diego arena called the Sunshine Center. Pushing middle age, the unmarried Ben is better at handling the arena’s ever-present chaos than in tackling his own neglected personal life.
Looking every minute of Ben’s 40 years, Perry knows his protracted adolescence is behind him. When Ben jokingly offers one of his “special moves” to a lovely co-worker (Andrea Anders), she immediately recognizes it as “the one where you look up and say, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know what just happened?’”
“Mr. Sunshine” reunites veteran sitcom director Thomas Schlamme and Perry with their “West Wing” cohort Allison Janney, who plays Crystal Cohen, the arena’s pill-popping owner. Careening from shrewd and demanding to ditsy and dazed, Janney’s Crystal is the funniest, freshest sitcom boss since Alec Baldwin landed at “30 Rock.”
Also in the excellent ensemble are Nate Torrence, as Crystal’s estranged son; James Lesure as a gratingly optimistic ex-hoops star now in management; and Portia Doubleday as Ben’s sweet, possibly psychotic assistant. Jorge Garcia (Hurley, from “Lost”) guest stars in the pilot as a maintenance worker whose name Ben can’t remember.
“Mr. Sunshine” has all its pieces in place. If it can avoid the creeping sentimentality and pomposity that eventually marred “The West Wing,” “Mr. Sunshine” could be the best gift we’ve yet received from an ex-Friend.
“Mr. Sunshine” premieres Feb. 9 on ABC at 9:30 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***1/2
Don’t write off “Traffic Light” as an extended variation of those old “Wassup” commercials just yet. The new Fox sitcom about three old college pals navigating adulthood matures into something close to promising by its third episode.
David Denman is Mike, a lawyer with a wife (appealingly played by Liza Lapira) and infant son, and Nelson Franklin is the droll, hipsterish Adam. Denman and Franklin, both alumni of “The Office,” give the show much of its charm but Kris Marshal, looking a tad like mid-career David Bowie, is miscast as Ethan, the gang’s British Lothario.
“Traffic Light” makes too much of the trio’s talking-while-driving phone conversations, meant to suggest their safe haven from women and adult responsibility. If the writing gets just a tad sharper, viewers might be as distracted from looming mishaps as the characters seem to be.
“Traffic Light” premieres Feb. 8 on Fox at 9:30 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2
Irish mobsters, a Polish cop, a black politician: The ethnic stew of Fox’s new, middling police drama “The Chicago Code” is ladled thick, but creator Shawn Ryan foregoes the character complexity of his earlier series “The Shield.”
“Code” sticks so close to ancient good cop/bad guy conventions that, despite flourishes like narration and serialized story arcs, it seems defiantly retro in our gray-shaded, post-”Wire” era.
Jason Clarke stars as Jarek Wysocki, a street-smart detective so good he’s given free rein to choose his cases. His boss, the police superintendent well-played by Jennifer Beals, convinces him to investigate the crooked doings of an alderman (the terrific Delroy Lindo). Along for the ride is Wysocki’s new partner (Matt Lauria), who makes up in instinct what he lacks in experience.
“The Chicago Code” premieres tonight on Fox at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2
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(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)